Final Chapter In Judicial Selection Commission List Public Records Case
by Robert Thomas, Inverse Condemnation, May 25, 2015
As the Star-Advertiser reports here ("State pays newspaper for nominees battle"), Hawaii Governor David Ige has signed a bill which appropriates funds for the State to pay a portion of the legal fees and costs incurred by the Star-Advertiser during its lawsuit which compelled former Governor Neil Abercrombie to stop keeping secret the list of judicial nominees which the Judicial Selection Commission presents to the governor.
We represented the Star-Advertiser in that case, which took several years to fully resolve because of a collateral appeal -- ultimately decided in the Star-Advertiser's favor by the Hawaii Supreme Court -- involving the attorneys' fees and costs which are required under Hawaii's public records statute:
Although the newspaper quickly won on the merits of the case, the long dispute over fees raises new concerns "because most individuals do not have the time and/or money to pursue a case like this on their own," he said.
"The Star-Advertiser was able to see this through to the end, even while the governor ordered appeals that delayed the outcome. But the state's reaction to our suit is bound to give pause to those who might think about pursuing open records in government on their own," [Star-Advertiser President and publisher Dennis] Francis said.
State lawmakers in 2014 approved a payment of $70,272.66 to cover the newspaper's initial costs leading up to [Circuit Judge Karl] Sakamoto's 2011 ruling, and this year lawmakers appropriated another $45,000 to cover most of the newspaper's costs during the appeal process. Ige signed the bill authorizing that final payment this week.
Robert Thomas, an attorney with Damon Key Leong Kupchak and Hastert, which represented the newspaper in the case, said the UIPA allows people who successfully sue to make government records public to recover their lawyers' fees and court costs. Thomas said he never believed the appeal by the state was worthwhile.
"I thought this case should have been resolved years ago and been put in the past, but for whatever reason they dug their heels in, and this is how it ended up," Thomas said. "I think it's really unfortunate that the taxpayer had to pick up the tab for this."
Here's some of our past posts on the case:
Normally we'd say "stay tuned," but this is (hopefully) the last chapter in this saga.